How seriously will Cobb County treat violations of its ordinance restricting private parking lot owners from charging Braves fans on game days?
Each violation is a criminal misdemeanor under an ordinance commissioners quietly approved in February.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that the ordinance prohibits property owners within a half-mile of SunTrust Park from opening their lots for a fee during stadium events. It requires parking lot owners outside of the half-mile radius of the stadium to apply for a license if they want to do business with SunTrust Park traffic.
The ordinance says licenses "will not be issued if primary access to the ... parking area is from a public right-of-way (a road) within the limited access zone."
County officials say the new law is necessary for public safety; critics say it is an attempt to protect the team's parking revenue from the more than 10,000 privately owned parking spaces that could be competition. The Braves say they support permitting but did not request a ban on licenses within the half-mile.
According to the ordinance, any person who violates the ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor. Penalties walk up a sliding scale of severity:
- First conviction: A fine of between $100-$1,000; imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 60 days.
- Second conviction: A fine of between $200-$1,000; imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 60 days.
- Third conviction: A fine of between $500-$1,000; imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 60 days.
- Fourth conviction: A fine of not less than $1,000; imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 60 days.
"A fourth conviction shall be considered a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature," the law says.
The ordinance also says that police "may block access from the (road) to any accessory special event parking area that has not obtained the necessary license or to a licensed accessory special event parking area that poses a public safety hazard, in the sole discretion of the public safety officer."
County officials say parking lot owners denied a permit can appeal to the Board of County Commissioners. Cartersville attorney Lester Tate, a former Georgia Bar Association president who reviewed the law for the AJC, said it is ripe for legal challenge because it treats the Braves differently than others in the community.
The law was passed in February without public debate, less than three months before Commission Chairman Tim Lee and Commissioner Bob Ott faced stiff electoral challenges in the May general primary election. None of the businesses contacted by the AJC over the past three weeks were aware of the law.